Life & Culture

The hottest foodie destinations in Tel Aviv

Over the last 75 years, Tel Aviv has become a food Mecca, here's our pick of the best spots


Over the last 75 years Israel has transformed itself from a culinary backwater into a gastronomic Mecca. Gone are the days of shipudim and parev crème bavaria. Today you’re as likely to go to the Holy Land on a food pilgrimage as a religious one.

With each wave of immigration Israel’s food scene has become enriched with new flavours and techniques. More adventurous travels, too, have seen even established Sabras incorporate exotic ideas in their highly successful kitchen experiments, thanks to their unique blend of quasi-religious devotion to cooking and a dash of start-up chutzpah.

But to achieve the highest level of spiritual transcendence for your taste buds, you’ll need to avoid the regular tourist joints and eat like a local. So we’ve picked out the top ten places you really ought to try when you’re next in Tel Aviv.

Pizza Lila
Merkhavya St 4, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

◗ When you think of the Holy Land you may not think of pizza. But Lila has perfected the holy trinity of dough, tomato and mozzarella to create an almost religious Italian experience in the hyper trendy Florentine neighbourhood.

The pizza is fluffy, light, crispy and thin, with simple toppings. The classic Margherita is perfectly executed, and their Caesar salad makes for a simple, leafy side dish. If you’re not in the mood for pizza you’re probably in the wrong place, but when we visited the specials included two types of gnocchi, keeping the Italian theme going.

While the food might make you forget you’re in Israel, the setting won’t. Almost all the seating is outdoors, in a grimy street lit by strings of bare light bulbs and ‘decorated’ with a mess of wires, air-con units and the odd plant growing up a wall. It’s the opposite of those ultra-planned, over designed al-fresco dining areas we’ve got used to in modern cities, but the atmosphere is all the better for it. This is Tel Aviv, after all.

The staff are just as hip as the location; it looks like they’re all regulars in the tattoo parlour across the street. Don’t be put off by their nonchalance, though: their friendly informality puts you at ease from the moment you arrive.

If that doesn’t melt away your stress, the drinks will. Our negronis were unexpectedly strong, but not in a bad way.

Nahalat Binyamin, 27

◗ On the ground floor of the Nordoy Hotel, in a beautifully renovated building originally designed and built in 1925 in the Central European eclectic style, you’ll find the best patisserie in Tel Aviv. It’s an ideal spot for breakfast, but you won’t find loads of tiny bowls of soft cheese, mashed tuna and salad here. Everything is decidedly more European, and also more buttery and sweet.

Their pastries are divine, and a touch more experimental than at many of the city’s increasingly excellent bakeries — classics but with a twist. We had a delicious muffin-shaped pastry made from croissant dough and brushed with rich butter and sugar. Try it in its plain form and also in the blood orange version, filled with a citrus crème patissiere which adds a hint of sharpness to the mix. The mille-feuille was flaky, sweet and filled with just the right amount of cream and also caramel. A delicious strawberry and crème patissiere pot with delicate sponge was possibly the star of the show.

Their massive sandwiches,  made from top quality bread with generous fillings, are also amazing for those with a less sweet tooth

Inside the tiny shop, the gorgeous-looking espresso machine, built into the wood and marble counter, generates endless delicious coffees as good as any you would find in an Italian bar.

Once you’ve queued and ordered, you can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine on this delightful corner of Nahalat Binyamin, watching the world go by.

Panda pita
Malan St, 45

◗ This unusually named pitta place serves an equally unusual delicacy: a ceviche pitta. A surprising combination, it’s as yummy as it is unexpected, and is the dish you’re here for. Skip everything else.

Shawarma might be king in this neighbourhood, but with the sweltering hot climate, their refreshing cold, zesty fish equivalent gives the cooked, meaty version a run for its money. It’s an elegant balance of Asian and Mediterranean influences, all lovingly shoved in a dreamily fluffy pitta. Vegans rave about their aubergine offering, too, called the ‘eggplant cloud’.

There are often long queues, and once you’ve got your food you may have to stand or sit on a low stool made from a plastic crate to eat it, but that’s all part of the fun. The staff wear panda baseball caps and everything is decorated in panda black and white.

Khayim Khavshush St, 39

◗ A half indoor, half outdoor fish restaurant which serves fresh and surprising dishes with layers of different flavours. The owner, Dor, explained that he and his wife started the restaurant just before the Covid lockdowns paralysed hospitality businesses in the city. Having struggled through the pandemic the restaurant is now busy and lively, and a great reminder of what fun it is to actually go out for a meal.

We had three raw fish ceviches, all totally different and each a celebration of different flavours, herbs and fishes. Flavoured variously with fresh and dried za’atar, sumac, pistachios, garlic aioli and even a yellow cherry tomato gazpacho, all the dishes were perfectly balanced.

The fish shawarma was a sensation, accompanied by roasted vegetables, green leaves, onion and radish.

The restaurant doesn’t serve any meat or non-kosher fish, and isn’t open on Shabbat or the chagim, but isn’t supervised kosher

Tikvah’s shakes
Shuk HaCarmel, 2 Rambam Street

◗ Tikvah is unique: as much of an institution as the national anthem with which she shares her name, she has been mixing up her unique and magical health potions in the Shuk HaCarmel for 30 years.

Her materia medica is Israel’s finest fruits and vegetables, blended and juiced to perfection, and her personality is every bit as nourishing. For 40 shekels, you will leave the stall of Tel Aviv’s no-nonsense apothecary with a healthy smoothie and an equally healthy state of mind. Essentially a meal in a cup, each delicious drink will ensure sure you get your five a day -- if not  10 or 11!

For the best experience, ask Tikvah’s advice and she’ll fire back with a set of quick questions to prepare the ideal drink for you. Do you have a cold? A hangover? Want to feel full-up? Having trouble with your spouse? Or just need to feel refreshed from the sweltering heat? Her shake will do the trick.

We had gloriously green parsley, cavalo nero, spinach, coriander, celery, dates, ginger, turmeric, star fruit, pineapple and banana mixture, finished off with a splash of olive oil “to activate the vitamin K”, and a dash of black pepper to help give the turmeric its full benefit. No added sugars or powders of any kind. Delicious, even if you don’t think it sounds it.

Despite her grey hair, Tikvah seems eternally youthful and vivacious. Maybe it’s her healthy shakes, we suggest. No, she laughs, “it’s because I’m doing what I love.”

Sabich tchernikovsy
Allenby St, 45

◗ Everyone has their favourite sabich place in Tel Aviv, but unless it’s Sabich Tchernikovsy, they’re wrong. Once based in Tchernikovsky Street (obviously), they’ve recently moved round the corner to Allenby.

Sabich is uniquely Israeli, first sold in 1961 and influenced by the breakfast habits of Iraqi Jewish immigrants.

The ingredients are the same everywhere, but Tchernikovsky’s own blend of fried aubergine, hard-boiled egg, potato, chopped salad, parsley, amba (a tangy mango pickle made with fenugreek) and tahini is perfectly balanced in a dreamy, light pitta. Every single bite is mouth-wateringly perfect.

Each sabich experience opens with the potato — it welcomes you. Then there’s a hit of the amba and the freshness of the salads. As you make your way through the cabbage, you hit the ultimate fried aubergine climax. You might not be an amba person, and that’s fine, they can leave it out at your request. But give it a go, because their blend of ingredients is so finely layered that no single taste dominates and you might be surprised.

But be warned, this is a messy business: as you sit on a nearby bench to eat your bulging pita, lean forwards and spread your legs apart, or you’ll risk a tahini disaster. We’ve ruined plenty of trousers that way.

There are various homemade pita options from regular to whole meal to gluten-free. If you insist, the fillings are customisable, but whatever you do don’t ask them to leave out the aubergine. As the sign on the wall philosophically states “bli chatsil, ein sabich” — without aubergine, there’s no sabich.

Rabbi Meir St, 42

◗ A visit to Israel isn’t complete without eating a Jerusalem Mix or kebabs at least once.  And there’s no better place to do this than at Shmuel.

For starters, try the delicious stuffed vine leaves, homemade pickles or grilled aubergine with tahini. Classics perfectly done.

Next up:  the simple but exquisite beef and lamb kebab patties. You can eat them with salad and tahini in your choice of pita,  as a ciabatta sandwich or on a plate with rice and noodles or grilled green vegetables.

Jerusalem Mix, a grilled meat dish of chicken hearts, spleens and liver mixed with bits of lamb, is the more adventurous choice.

All the seating here is at the counter, bar-style, which means you can watch your food as they grill it for you. Set just off the market, the ambience is lively but comfortable.

The meat is kosher and the restaurant is closed on Shabbat and chagim, but is not supervised.

Blender and sandwich
Mikve Israel St, 12

◗ If you want to relive the Israeli childhood you never had, this is the place to do it. Ossi, the owner, makes amazing sandwiches and salads that are just like home cooking, but with a twist. Her ingredients are all fresh and deliciously cooked, but she proves that a great sandwich is more than just the sum of its parts. There’s a bit of magic in each one that just makes them special.

Tuck into a schnitzel sarnie made in a ciabatta and enjoy the extra, unexpected zing of preserved lemon, or enjoy an egg salad sandwich which has been lifted to new levels thanks to a hint of truffle oil. Her meat is kosher, and there’s no dairy (if you want a latte go next door to LoveEat).

Other favourites include the ordinary sounding meatball sandwich or tuna sandwich, but trust us, nothing here is basic when it comes to flavour. Ossi makes every dish with love and serves it with a generous portion of her trademark warmth and sparkling chat.

The place is tiny,  basically a shack that is open to the pavement on one side. But it is cosy and homely for it.

Sit outside and you’ll see that Ossi is the queen of the neighbourhood — everybody who passes knows her and stops to say hello, from business people to homeless folk.

Since the development of the Tel Aviv light rail the entire area has been renovated and smartened up, making Ossi’s the most delightful home-food joint in town.

Dafna St, 2

◗ Israel’s superstar chef Eyal Shani has become famous around the world for serving up simply exquisite Middle Eastern dishes without any pretension. Quite often you’ll get a paper bag of steaming hot green beans or a hunk of meat on a bit of cardboard instead of a plate. In fact, plenty complain that at his prices some actual crockery wouldn’t go amiss.

Malka is Shani’s kosher offering, and is not unlike his other restaurants Port Said and Miznon (which has recently opened a UK branch in London’s Notting Hill).

It’s loud and proud, busy and noisy.  For some, the buzzing  atmosphere might even be a bit too much. Translation: if  you’re feeling like a quiet bite, maybe go somewhere else.

But if you’re in the mood, you’re in for a treat. This chef makes amzing use of seasonal produce and likes to let his ingredients take centre stage. He serves his beetroot slices grilled and served with a simple drizzle of oil, for example.

If you’re in the right mood, it’s a fun, celebrational place to experience the 21st  century Israeli food that is making waves around the world.

Four branches, see

◗ You can’t get more Tel Aviv than this. Malabi, the Persian-origin gelatinous desert made with milk, rice flour and sugar, is one of those Middle Eastern delicacies that Israel quickly adopted and made its own.

Hamalabiya has rebranded Malabi, transforming it from a dated desert that restaurants used to avoid serving, into a cool retro sweet, complete with new sauces and toppings to suit anyone’s tastes.

Try it with topped with crushed pistachios, desiccated coconut and bright red rosewater syrup. They even serve a vegan version which is light and tastes just like the real thing, if not better.

The atmosphere is wonderfully chilled: come for the malabi, stay for the music, board games and arak.

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